We are members of the Fordham community writing about your response to the now cancelled Ann Coulter speaking engagement at Fordham. Though the College Republicans withdrew the invitation to Ms. Coulter in light of the outcry from their peers, the problem remains that the University was willing to allocate over $10,000 to this event even while denying funding to other student and departmental initiatives featuring speakers or topics with which it disagrees. We appreciate your statement distancing the University from Ms. Coulter’s hateful rhetoric and defending free speech and academic freedom. We remain deeply troubled, however, by the University’s inconsistency regarding which events it denies funding or otherwise censors on campus.
We would like you to explain how the decision was made to allow the College Republicans to use student activity funds to pay for the Coulter event while denying the use of such funds for other purposes deemed not to be in keeping with the University’s mission. For example, we understand that student groups may not use their budgets for the productions of the Vagina Monologues mounted by Fordham undergraduates each year to raise funds to combat violence against women. Along these same lines, Fordham’s anti-abortion club receives funding while pro-choice advocacy is censored. Why are these forms of student expression and association denied support while the Coulter event was not? Is pro-choice advocacy or the Vagina Monologues more inconsistent with the University’s mission than Coulter’s hate speech you rightly decry? Are they less entitled to respect in the free exchange of ideas in the Academy?
We would also appreciate a clear statement of the policy regarding advertising of events on campus, another form of speech recently censored by the University. In stark contrast to your position that prohibiting Ms. Coulter from speaking would “do violence to the academy, and to the Jesuit tradition of fearless and robust engagement,” the University recently prohibited the posting of flyers for Prescribe Fordham 2, an off-campus event sponsored by a number of academic departments at which volunteer doctors provided students with uncensored sexual and reproductive health counseling and services. The event, which was banned from campus, was aimed at addressing the problems that result from the restrictions the University places on the medical providers at its student health centers and the prohibition on condom distribution.
Student Affairs Dean Keith Eldredge asserted that allowing the Prescribe Fordham 2 flyers to be posted would violate Catholic teaching, and that anything that violates Catholic teaching violates the University’s mission. Is this your position? If so, how did you determine that funding Ms. Coulter’s speech would be in keeping with Fordham’s mission? Following two incidents last year in which racist and homophobic slurs were found on Fordham campuses, Vice President Jeffrey Gray told students in an email, “there is no room at Fordham University for bigotry of any kind, directed at any individual or group.” Ms. Coulter, who has been clear about her disdain for college campuses, is famous for her vicious rhetoric and use of slurs to describe those with whom she disagrees.
From your response to the Coulter controversy, you appear to believe that her speech is not consistent with the University’s mission. We can only assume, therefore, that Ms. Coulter and the College Republicans were not subject to the “Catholic teaching” litmus test applied by Dean Eldredge. If this is correct, could you please explain why other groups are subject to such a test? What is the principle you rely upon to distinguish between the types of student and faculty speech that will be censored and which will not?
As you noted in your remarks at graduation regarding the controversy over inviting John Brennan to speak at that event, Fordham should be a place where diverse views can be debated. However, the pattern of censoring Fordham academic departments, and women’s and LGBTQ student groups, makes the funding of Coulter’s speech especially troubling. We are not suggesting that Coulter or the group that invited her should have been censored. Rather, we would like a clear statement of the basis for these funding and censorship decisions in light of their manifest inconsistency.